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COPA Airlines agrees to return barred migrants after meeting

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Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2022. 3:13 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Immigration authorities are on their way to resolving the further detention of 37 migrants from Venezuela, Morocco, and the Dominican Republic.

Following a meeting Wednesday afternoon between Immigration Department officials led by Director Debra Baptist-Estrada and COPA Airlines representatives from Belize, Guatemala, and in Panama, in which the former briefed the latter of the reasons for refusing entry of the passengers, the events that led them to be removed from the flight and the reasons for delay in repatriation (caused by COPA), the airline agreed to arrange hotel accommodation; food and water; the return flight; and the police guard.

In return, COPA has agreed to request permission from Guatemalan authorities for the disruptive Dominican Republic national to be returned to Panama with police and Immigration escort via TAG Airlines separately, as well as the Moroccan. The Venezuelans will go back on a bigger aircraft on January 22.

The group is being held at the Belize Biltmore Plaza Hotel under guard and in the case of the Venezuelans, have spoken to their diplomatic representatives here.

The group will also be allowed to speak to representatives from the Belize sub-office of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR).

“There was nothing declared to the Immigration officer at the Airport; the [Dominican] just decided that he wasn’t going back, and he started to incite the others,” Director of Immigration Debra Baptist-Estrada told us in response to whether there were any underlying issues provoking the stand-off and detention.

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